Help for writers trying to make their work more accessible, interesting, varied, accurate and effective by exploring similar and dissimilar words. This series also provides language learners with insights into some of the peculiarities of the English language.
A good thesaurus gives alternatives for the idea of a word, but not all suggestions are true synonyms. Context matters. Placing synonyms into a sentence to see whether they make sense is a way of checking suitability. But it’s not foolproof, so a good dictionary is also essential.
My chosen dictionary is the two-volume Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. And I use Roget’s Thesaurus for word selection, preferring the 1987 edition. But I try to dig the best word from my overloaded memory first: it’s good mental exercise. Other books of words, which I consult when an appropriate term evades me, live on the reference shelves behind me.
So, to this week’s words: Repulsive/Pleasant
Repulsive – Roget gives these headers: repellent, unsavoury, inelegant, ugly, disliked, hateful. Under the subheading, ‘hateful’, there are (32) more suggestions, including odious, obnoxious, pestilential, nasty, loathsome, execrable, nauseating, disgusting and unwelcome.
Pleasant – Roget lists these headers: pleasant, pleasurable, amusing. Under the sub-heading ‘pleasurable’ are another (100) alternatives, including nice, gratifying, just what the doctor ordered, fabulous, excellent, peaceful, luxurious, delicious, luscious, picturesque, appealing, seductive, ravishing, homely, Elysian, and blissful.
These two words can operate as antonyms and it’s in that capacity I’m examining them here.
Let’s look at usage for repulsive.
‘Joanna had never liked Paul. In fact, she found this overweight, condescending, arrogant little cleric really quite repulsive.’
It would be fine to replace ‘repulsive’ with ‘odious’, ‘obnoxious’, ‘loathsome’, ‘nauseating’ or ‘disgusting’ in this sentence. However, ‘pestilential’ and ‘’unwelcome’ can’t be used as direct synonyms and would alter the meaning subtly, even after restructuring of the sentence.
Now let’s look at usage for pleasant.
‘Paul had always considered Joanna attractive. In fact, he found this lithe, intelligent, self-effacing and elegant lady rather pleasant.’
Here, we could readily substitute ‘nice’ or ‘appealing’ for ‘pleasant’. But any of the other suggested alternatives would alter the meaning of the sentence, in some cases quite profoundly.
For language learners, there’s a great group page on Facebook, which you can find through this link.
I welcome observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for your ideas and thoughts.
Antonyms can be difficult to discover and thesauruses generally fail to give examples. When utterly lost for such an opposite, I grab ‘The New Nuttall Dictionary of English Synonyms and Antonyms’ published 1986, which generally resolves my dilemma. I’m sure other such volumes are readily available.